Iran's Islamic regime and the opposition Green Movement have embarked on a tug-of-war to voice solidarity with the antigovernment demonstrations convulsing Arab countries, as Iran's own long-dormant protest organizations shows signs of reviving.
Poster by Iranian opposition featuring Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as a dictator
The latest phase in an ideological struggle to claim spiritual kinship with the Arab wave of revolt took place on February 20, when Iranian protesters were met with a brutal crackdown from security forces after taking to the streets for the second time in a week.
'Now It's Time For Sayed Ali'
Although international media were barred from covering the gatherings, a video obtained and published by Reuters showed demonstrators chanting slogans sympathetic to the movements that recently toppled the long-serving presidents of Egypt and Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. "Mubarak, Ben Ali, now it's time for Sayed Ali," protesters chanted in a slogan demanding the removal of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But the sentiments clashed with Khamenei's own comments, which insisted that Egypt's "people movements" and other Arab rebellions were in line with Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
"The enemies try to say that the popular movements in Egypt, Tunisia, and other nations are un-Islamic, but certainly these popular movements are Islamic and must be consolidated," Khamenei told a gathering of Shi'ite and Sunni scholars at an international conference in Islam on February 20.
The comments echoed others made by Khamenei and leading Iranian figures. In a Friday Prayer sermon on February 4 -- a week before Mubarak resigned -- Khamenei called for the installation of an Islamic regime in Egypt.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has also hailed the Egyptian uprising as inspired by his own brand of messianic Islam.
"The final move has begun...a great awakening is unfolding. One can witness the hand of Imam in managing it," Ahmadinejad declared on February 11, the day of Mubarak's departure.
The Tehran regime's claim to be on the side of the Arab protesters appears in part to have prompted Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, the de facto leaders of the Green Movement, to call Iran's first opposition protests in a year.
"We called for a demonstration to show our movement is alive and to stop the Iranian government's propaganda abuse of pro-democracy movements in the region," Karrubi said, after calling an antigovernment demonstration for February 14.
Green Movement leaders have been particularly incensed by the government's perceived double standards in condemning the Mubarak regime's violent suppression of protests when Iranian security forces used equally brutal tactics to quell mass demonstrations against Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection in 2009, which Musavi and Karrubi say was stolen.
The official Iranian line was expressed by the parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, on February 10 when he told Al-Jazeera: "The Egyptians have a peaceful protest. Why are they reacting to them with bullets and violence?"
But the Green Movement accuses Iranian forces in responding in identical fashion to protests it staged on February 14 and 20. Last week, two protesting students, Sanah Jaleh, 26, and Mohammad Mokhtari, 22, were shot dead when security forces fired into a crowd, the opposition says. It also accuses the regime of falsely claiming that the two men were members of the hard-line Basij militia.
A similar intolerance was on display on February 20 in a demonstration called to commemorate the death of the two men. Opposition websites reported that security forces, including riot-control units on motorbikes, used tear gas to disperse crowds in some of Tehran's main squares and thoroughfares.
Basij members were said to have taken over a commercial building in one neighborhood and dropped tear-gas canisters from the roof onto protesters, "The Wall Street Journal" reported.
Protesters chanted, "God is great," and, "It's the season for revolts; it's the end of Khamenei." Similar protests were reported in almost every major Iranian city, including Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Rasht, with reports of violent clashes, injuries, and multiple arrests.
written by Robert Tait with contributions from agency reports
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